A Tale of Three Novelists: Heygate, Waugh and Williamson

A copy of Evelyn Waugh’s first printed book changed hands last month. This was one of 50 copies of P.R.B: An Essay on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 1847-1854 printed on order in 1926 by a Stratford firm where Waugh’s friend Alastair Graham was employed. Somehow, this copy fell into the hands of Waugh’s later nemesis, John Heygate, who eloped with Waugh’s first wife in 1929. Here’s the announcement of the sale from Antiques Trade Gazette:

Billed as a copy inscribed by the man who stole its author’s first wife at a party given by Anthony Powell and Constance Lambert, the top lot in a July 27 sale held by Stride & Son (18% buyer’s premium) was one of 50 copies of the 1926 first edition of Evelyn Waugh’s first book, P.R.B: Essay on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Bid to £6000, three times the top estimate, in Chichester, it was a copy warmly inscribed (possibly in 1952) by the Northern Irish-born journalist and novelist Sir John Heygate (1905-76) to Henry Williamson.

The latter’s most famous work, Tarka the Otter, had been published in 1928, and Heygate’s inscription apologises for not having a book left of his own to give to his old friend, but hopes he “…will accept this, what I believe to be Evelyn Waugh’s first printed book”.

Divorce proceedings between Evelyn Waugh (‘He-Evelyn’) and the first Mrs Waugh, Evelyn Gardner (‘She-Evelyn’), began in 1929. Heygate was cited. He married Gardner a year later but they divorced in 1936.

Heygate had been portrayed as John Beaver in Waugh’s A Handful of Dust of 1934 and much later as Sir Piers Tofield in Williamson’s epic, 15-volume Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight series of books.

Here’s a transcription of Heygate’s note to Williamson which apparently appeared on the book’s endpaper and was included in the sale:

Not having a book of my own left to give my old friend, Henry Williamson, on the occasion of his first visit to Bellarena, and to celebrate an [sic] friendship having successfully survived more than the average succession of misunderstandings (super-sensitivities ?), and, alas, not very likely now to write anything but this sort of stuff, I hope he will accept this, which I believe to be Evelyn Waugh’s first printed book. John Heygate 1952

The three novelists had a mutual history dating back to Waugh’s meeting with Williamson in 1928 on the occasion of the latter’s receipt of the Hawthornden award for Tarka the Otter (Diaries, 11 November 1928).  Waugh received the award in 1936 for Edmund Campion. Waugh later appears as a character (Tony Cruft) in Williamson’s Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. This is in volume 11, The Power of the Dead (1963), where Williamson includes a fictional version of the breakup of Waugh’s marriage. This is all described in some detail in my article “Evelyn Waugh as a Fictional Character” in EWS 30.1 (Spring 1996) and summarized by Martin Stannard in his Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh edition of Vile Bodies (v. 2, p. xl, fn. 59).

One can only wonder where Heygate’s copy of Waugh’s P.R.B. given to Williamson  was acquired. It is assumed that it wasn’t a copy inscribed by Waugh to the original buyer or gift recipient since no such inscription is mentioned in the seller’s catalogue.

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